Silver threads… Posted on August 8, 2011

It looks as though the early spring may be mirrored by an early autumn. Is there only a set length of time that plants can keep up their mid-season functions?

To my alarm, already in July I could see turning leaves – even on a few trees quite dramatic changes of colour. Our red maple, an American not usually at home in our alkaline soil, but making a good shift of it over 30 years here, shows more of its red capabilities now than in most autumns. (Here it usually turns pale yellow in October).
Koelreuteria, the so-called pride of India (it comes from China) is turning red when its usual choice, much later in the year, is a vibrant orange. And Toona sinensis, perhaps more familiar as Cedrela, is already going the clear yellow it usually reaches in short misty days.

Mind you, the Toona has had a rough year. It was pillaged by pigeons from earliest spring. They sit on its dome and peck, peck, peck at new shoots, littering the ground and leaving the canopy threadbare. This summer, choosing a day when a party of dendrologists was due to inspect us, it suddenly cast a huge branch, one of its three principal stems; a prone 30 feet of heavy red timber and elaborate leaves that would have been painful to anyone on the lawn. Note: this is the second such collapse. This is a tree with poorly-engineered branches. They must emerge at the wrong angles.

Japanese maples don’t seem to be taken in by the funny seasons, or at least not to work to rule. Some nights have been coolish, but perhaps not cold enough to make them react. Meanwhile an extraordinary weight of fruit is taking its toll – undoubtedly the result of such a perfect warm spring and impeccable flowering. All the apple trees are bending and shedding barrow-loads of fruit. I have just been round shaking the branches I can reach and cowering from the cascades.

Poor John Downie, our most prolific crab, is stooping under the weight of lovely little glowing apples, right out of my reach. Yesterday I found a major branch on the ground in a pool of fruit. I fear more may succumb.

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